# What's wrong with a “not-homework” tag?

I had tagged this question with the tag [not-homework] after one of the persons answering it had wrongly assumed that it was homework.

This tag was removed by moderator @KennyTM. I would like to understand why.

I think a [not-homework] tag will save a lot of the inconvenience caused from having to ask and answer the "is this homework" question or from people assuming on their own that a question is homework.

You can take the position that a certain type of question should get the "homework" treatment regardless of whether or not it was assigned by an instructor. In that case we should also do away with the [homework] tag.

• What's wrong with just saying "it's not homework" in the body of the question instead of tagging it not-homework? – J. M. is a poor mathematician Oct 26 '10 at 10:14
• @J.M. Sure, you could certainly do that. But I liked the symmetry with the [homework] tag. And why use a sentence when a word would do? So I would like to know the moderator's justification. – Jyotirmoy Bhattacharya Oct 26 '10 at 10:24
• not-homework should be implied by a missing homework tag. – Jens Oct 26 '10 at 10:33
• not-homework has a kind of "wink wink nudge nudge" feeling to it. More seriously, tags are primarily designed to help people locate related and relevant questions. not-homework isn't really a category that seems relevant. We might as well add a "not" tag for every existing one. – crasic Oct 26 '10 at 10:44
• @Jens. That does not work, as the linked question shows. In the absence of an explicit declaration people will want to guess or question. – Jyotirmoy Bhattacharya Oct 26 '10 at 10:57
• @crasic. (1) I rather wanted to convey a "do not disturb" feeling. I find the homework nagging a bother and thought this would be a way to pre-empt it. (2) [not-homework] is only as much a misuse of the tag system as [homework]. After all it is unlikely that there are people who are searching for homework problems. For myself, I don't see why tags cannot be used for purposes other than classification. – Jyotirmoy Bhattacharya Oct 26 '10 at 11:06
• On the contrary, I regularly search the site and look at homework tags, because more often than not, someone has already asked a question about a problem in the assignment I'm working on. If you are so worried about the question being interpreted as homework then just state so in the description. The homework tag is kind of an admission of guilt and tells the responder how to reply, not homework seems deceitful. – crasic Oct 26 '10 at 11:11
• Following @J.M's suggestion I edited the body of the question to include "[not-homework]". That serves my purposes and sidesteps the whole debate on tagging. – Jyotirmoy Bhattacharya Oct 27 '10 at 4:14

If every non-homework question is tagged [not-homework], then every non-homework question will need to be tagged [not-homework]. It simply won't scale. We will just treat questions as non-homework by default.

See also What is the proper way to handle homework questions? on what to do if a question is homework-like.

• It would certainly scale if every question, at the time of posting, had an optional questionnaire (a checklist or form) to provide basic information: what is the source, what is the difficulty level or knowledge level of the problem, what elements or tasks are sought in the answer (a hint, a full solution, a computer program that washes windows, etc), is the question original, and many others. If people wanted one of the items to be "is it (a) assigned homework (b) assigned research task (c) assigned job task (d) unassigned", that would be one more scalable query. – T.. Oct 26 '10 at 14:44
• @T..: How will it scale when you are giving more degrees of freedom? o_O The checklist is good for content, but not tags. Moreover, your list can never be exhaustive when you categorize it so detail. Like, what if it is an exam question? Mock exam question? Interview question? – kennytm Oct 26 '10 at 14:59
• An optional question-list ("click HERE to answer -- improves Q&A quality!") is not any additional difficulty for postings. Having the option to use that information for selecting what to read (e.g., ignore non-original questions, job tasks, or questions above undergraduate level) or as extra data one can look at when answering ("click THERE to see questionnaire data!") does not seem to impose new complexity on users. It doesn't need to be exhaustive. There can also be text boxes with enough space to write something like "mock exam" or "interview" or "want answer to impress my friends". – T.. Oct 26 '10 at 15:12
• @T..: I mean, that's a good idea, but it has nothing to do with that the [not-homework] tag doesn't scale. – kennytm Oct 26 '10 at 15:15
• My point was that there is a method for resolving the [homework], [not-homework], [homework-status-unknown] matter in way that does scale and increases options without downgrading the discussions. If there is to be homework interrogation it is better to have it be impersonal, automatic and optional to the questioner. However, in general [homework] is a terrible category for thinking about how to develop the site. It is rarely a distinction that is useful. – T.. Oct 26 '10 at 15:27
• @T..: OK. [ ](http://.) – kennytm Oct 26 '10 at 15:29
• to disambiguate: in my first comment beginning "it would certainly scale...", the "it" that would scale is not a [non-homework] tag but the idea of an optional questionnaire. I agree that tagging everything as [X], [not-X], or [X-unknown] would never scale, for any X. – T.. Oct 26 '10 at 16:19

In general, [homework] is a terrible category for thinking about how to develop the site.

Could those who think that [homework] needs to be identified (when not initially volunteered) please disclose any relevant feature of homework questions that is not:

1. Also present in a large(r) number of non-homework questions

2. Equally important as information for selecting, displaying or answering those non-homework questions

3. Better expressed by its own tag, such as [task], [specified-method], [verification-request], or [unsourced]?

The question has been asked before but no real difference articulated as to why homework is of special importance compared to (for example) other types of assigned tasks, other "learning experiences" of solving problems without assistance, or other forms of unsourced material.

• Dear T., One issue (at least for me) is that, as a teacher, I don't like the idea of people outsourcing their homework problems to a Q&A site. Basically, the relevant feature is a moral one, which is not addressed by the various technical issues and fixes that you are raising. on the other hand, especially after reading this question, I am becoming more sympathetic to your position. In short, I am conflicted. – Matt E Oct 26 '10 at 20:11
• @Matt E: I also teach, but shouldn't the site operate in the interests of all its users and not only those who teach? (We don't restrict search engines because they can help students write papers.) There are also many, many moral issues with assigning homework to begin with. To pick one at random: without "levelling the playing field" with an accessible oracle or a pure reliance on exams, students with friends, family, books or tutors to help answer their questions are advantaged in homework over the ones who are more isolated. – T.. Oct 26 '10 at 20:17
• Also, as implied in my answer, I don't know of moral issues that arise with [homework] that do not arise, usually more strongly, with non-homework categories of material. A grad student outsourcing lemmas for his PhD thesis is exempt from homework scrutiny here, as is a worker who cleverly presents pieces of his tasks to the oracle. – T.. Oct 26 '10 at 20:22
• Dear T.., It is exactly the arguments in your last two comments that are making me progressively more sympathetic to your point of view. – Matt E Oct 26 '10 at 23:15
• @Matt E: also, I should clarify that as far as moral questions are concerned, my view is not that any specific flavor of morality should be imposed upon the site (e.g., a pro- or anti-homework ethos, though debating the respective merits of those could be beneficial). Rather, the assertion is that using homework as a pre-designated special category for thinking about questions of type X (such as X=morality or X=tagging of questions or X=development of the site) leads to muddled thinking about X. – T.. Oct 27 '10 at 2:49